One of the dangers of a long leadership election is that it overemphasises the role of the leader over the role of the shadow cabinet. Labour’s renewal and return to office will depend not only on who we elect as leader, but on the team and policies that we develop while in opposition.
To see this, look at the Conservative party under David Cameron. Cameron set much of the tone and direction in opposition, true, but the real policy meat has come from what is now his cabinet: Michael Gove’s school “reforms” being a particularly vivid example of this. It’s hard to think of specific key policies (as opposed to “mood music”) that have come from Cameron himself.
This is another factor that inclines me towards David Miliband as leader. The two candidates with the best chance of beating him – the two Eds – each have one or two areas of policy with which they are particularly associated and in which they have considerable in-depth knowledge: the economy and education for Ed Balls, and climate change for Ed Miliband. At last night’s hustings, it seemed to me that each was at his most comfortable and convincing when talking on those issues.
When it comes to David Miliband, by contrast, two things strike me. First, as I said in my previous post I was impressed by the depth and range of his knowledge on policy issues: the sense that he had more policy “hinterland” than the other candidates. However, he is not associated with any single area of policy in quite the same way as the two Eds (or, indeed, Andy Burnham, with his focus on care for the elderly). Indeed, one is vaguely surprised to find out just how broad his experience in government has been.
All this reinforces my growing sense that David Miliband may be the right choice for leader. To have David Miliband as leader, with Ed Balls shadowing (and pummelling) George Osborne and Ed Miliband working on “greening” the whole of Labour’s policy agenda, could be the start of an impressive fightback by Labour.